2016. What a year. Political upheaval in the form of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president. The tragic loss of musical icons such as Prince and A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg. Continued economic and social unrest across the globe. Suffice to say, 2016 will no doubt be looked back on in years to come as a definite time of change, with not much of that change necessarily being for the better.
The world of music, however, continued to offer sanctuary from the madness of everyday life, with a string of artists ensuring 2016 will also be remembered for quality beats and rhymes.
As I always say each year when I post my best-of choices, this list of 100 releases doesn’t represent the only albums and EPs worthy of your attention over the last twelve months, but it does feature the artists and titles that remained in regular rotation for me personally.
So, in the words of Slick Rick, heeeerrre we go….
Timeless Truth – “Cold Wave” (Different Worlds Music Group / Chopped Herring) – Queens, NY blood brothers Oprime39 and Superbad Solace added on to their already impeccable catalogue with this full-length collection of Rotten Apple rawness firmly rooted in the Hip-Hop heritage of their city, evoking images of late-night subway rides, street-corner ciphers and overcrowded studio sessions.
Split Prophets – “Delta Bravo Kilo” (SplitProphets.BandCamp.Com) – Following a number of crew member solo efforts, Bristol’s Split Prophets combined creative forces once again for this quality long-player, with the UK collective keeping everything in-house (no outside producers or guest appearances here) to showcase their lively brand of beats and rhymes.
Them That Do – “Them That Do…” (HiPNOTT) – Jazzy, soulful true-school flavour from Phat Hentoff, Chuck Daily and Jasper Brown, which featured the lyrical trio delivering thoughtful, life-affirming wordplay over the well-crafted soundscapes of Philly-based producer Small Professor.
DITC – “DITC Studios” (Slice-Of-Spice) – The influence of the legendary Diggin’ In The Crates crew on a generation of 90s heads can never be underestimated. Classic releases from Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG, O.C. etc played a huge part in defining the decade viewed by many as being the pinnacle of the rap game’s golden-era. Proving that true skills are timeless, this album found the core DITC members reuniting for an uncompromising lesson in hardcore Hip-Hop.
AUTOMatic – “Marathon” (AUTOMatic.BandCamp.Com) – The fourth full-length album from Milwaukee’s APRIME 3099 and Trellmatic combined smoothed-out soundscapes inspired by old-school R&B with witty, intelligent lyricism, resulting in a project that was as refreshing as it was entertaining. True-school feel-good flavour.
Ded Tebiase – “Seventy Five” (VillageLive.BandCamp.Com) – A masterful blend of both instrumental and vocal tracks featuring UK talent such as Iron Braydz and Mnsr Frites, “Seventy Five” found Bristol beat king Tebiase offering up some of the best production to be heard in 2016, resulting in an album packed with well-crafted 90s-influenced head-nodders.
DJ Quik & Problem – “Rosecrans” (Diamond Lane Music) – Compton OG Quik joined forces with up-and-comer Problem for this succinct shot of warm, smoothed-out West Coast fonk with a gangsta-edge, offering further proof that David Blake is one of the game’s greatest ever producers. Music to drive-by.
Masta Ace – “The Falling Season” (M3 Entertainment) – Taking it back to the old-school literally, NY rhyme legend Masta Ace revisited his Brooklyn childhood on his seventh solo full-length, with this concept-based project focusing on the former Juice Crew member’s time as a pupil at Sheepshead Bay High in the 1980s. Drawing on a variety of emotions and experiences that helped shape Ace into the talented lyricist we’ve grown to know and cherish, this Kic Beats-produced album was yet another worthy addition to the Masta’s impressive discography.
DJ Skizz – “Cruise Control” (Different Worlds / Fat Beats) – Trading the punchy, boom-bap driven sound of his 2013 album “BQE” for a more lo-fi, loop-based flavour, NY producer Skizz called on microphone heavyweights such as O.C., Milano Constantine and Roc Marciano to bless his minimalist mood music with undeniably captivating results.
Dabbla – “Year Of The Monkey” (High Focus) – Showcasing his sharp delivery and raw couldn’t-give-a-f**k wit, this solo project from London Zoo / Problem Child member Dabbla offered a high-octane lyrical rollercoaster ride over eclectic production from the likes of Chemo, Ghosttown, Sumgii and more. Brilliantly boisterous beats and rhymes.
Discourse – “Megalomaniac” (Crate Cartel) – Australian producer Discourse supplied the likes of Tragedy Khadafi, A.G. and Starvin B with a serious selection of moody and atmospheric soundscapes on this expertly-crafted project, with “Megalomaniac” featuring an impressive array of lyrical talent from Australia, the US and the UK who all did justice to the high-quality beats heard here.
Kelpi NINE – “Forecast.” (KelpiNINE.BandCamp.Com) – Producer-based action coming straight outta the Ukraine, Kelpi NINE demonstrated his talent for blending together subtle. melodic samples and hard, unrelenting drums on this succinct nine-track release.
Broken Poetz – “Soul Searching” (BrokenPoetz2.BandCamp.Com) – An entertaining mix of personal reflection, worldly observations and quality, sample-driven production, this full-length effort from rhyming duo D.Know and Mystero was UK Hip-Hop made with undeniable passion.
Dell-P – “To The Moon And Beyond” (WHOMAG Distribution) – Backed by the soulful production of Samad Dawson, talented Philly wordsmith Dell-P addressed a number of society’s ills and the struggles of Black America throughout this potent project, injecting his music with sincere, heartfelt messages that only became even more relevant in the months following the January release of this album.
Planet Asia & DJ Concept – “Seventy Nine” (Coalmine Records) – Since his 90s debut, West Coast wordsmith Planet Asia has firmly established himself as one of the game’s most consistent emcees. This collaboration with Strong Island-based DJ Concept further solidified that reputation, with PA spitting intricate verses over production with a soulful thump.
Blaq Poet – “The Most Dangerous” (Shinigamie Records) – Queensbridge legend Blaq Poet lyrically stomped all over the rugged production of France’s Kyo Itachi and Venom on this uncompromisingly hardcore album, with appearances from Ruste Juxx, Tragedy Khadafi and Bankai Fam only adding to the overall rawness of the project.
Grindhouse Project – “To Kill A Critic” (GrindhouseProject.BandCamp.Com) – The long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s “GHP Is Like…” EP, “To Kill A Critic” found emcees Trace Motivate and 360 once again joining forces with producers Astro Mega and Futurewave to drop a potent dose of hard, uncut Canadian Hip-Hop.
Sonnyjim – “Mud In My Malbec” (Eat Good / Daupe!) – The UK’s Sonnyjim delivered his exquisite long-awaited album “Mud In My Malbec” in June of 2016, with the project’s mix of understated lyrical arrogance and 70s-flavoured loops conjuring up images of a mink-wearing Willie Dynamite driving through the streets of Birmingham, England, blasting this long-player from the comfort of a customised Cadillac.
Daniel Son & Giallo Point – “The Gunners Tape” (GialloPoint.BandCamp.Com) – Canada’s Daniel Son enlisted the talents of UK producer Giallo Point for this thoroughly impressive twelve-track project, featuring the Toronto emcee pummelling GP’s quality 90s-influenced beats with consistently sharp, vivid and engaging verses.
Daddy Grace aka Born Allah – “No Hip Hop For Grown Men” (Church Of Hip Hop) – As generational debates continued to rage within Hip-Hop, West Coast wordsmith Daddy Grace (aka Born Allah) proudly proclaimed his unshakeable OG status and personified the term ‘grown-man rap’ throughout this impressive debut solo project. Laced with Five Percent Nation influences and LA street swagger, “No Hip Hop For Grown Men” was both righteous and ruthless.
Part Two coming soon.